The promise of summer lingered in the air. It was warm, and the skies were a clear blue. Yet, in the building I worked at, a man stood desperate. The skies in his life must’ve been overshadowed in grey. He was 55 years old, and at 9:40 AM that Tuesday morning he decided to end his life. Hearing the commotion, we ran to help. But there was nothing that we could have done. We were too late. Had someone, had I, two minutes earlier, been able to say hello and give him a friendly smile – would that have been enough to make a difference? Do you know how many times I have thought that to myself? What if I had been there in those minutes before?
In the reports that followed, the man’s family said that he had felt alone, that he had been going through a separation, and that times had been difficult. There was a silent acceptance from people in my community that those reasons were enough. For many in my building, his death was deemed a tragedy, but it was also an inconvenience to the workday.
When did the people in this world become so cold to their fellow man? Have we always been that way? I believe that loneliness and difficult times can – with support and love – be eased, but this tragedy left me questioning our society. For a moment, it also left me feeling frustrated with the man, wondering how he saw suicide as the only “solution.” Maybe he had reached out for help; maybe society failed him. I hope we didn’t.
I did not know the man. He was a stranger to me. His family said he felt alone – yet since that day, I have carried the memory of him with me. I will never forget him; I didn’t need to know him to understand how he was feeling and to carry him with me.
That same year, the man also became a number; he became another person that had fallen through the cracks. There was one suicide every four days in my home city of Glasgow. In 2013, 795 people in Scotland saw their only “escape” through suicide. Although that number may seem small, Scotland only has a population of 5.3 million people. To give scale, America has a population of approximately 320 million people, while 23 million people live in Australia. That means 1 in 6,666 people in Scotland died by suicide in 2013. And that does not include all the people whose cause of death was unconfirmed but thought to be suicide. Nor does it cover the increase in attempted suicides. We have the statistics, and we have the ability to help, so why is it so hard for people to speak up and to listen to those who do?
From a young age, we are encouraged to engage in all that life offers us. We are told to work hard and be smart, that our brains can be used to change the world. We are taught to open our hearts to those around us. We are taught that this is the key to being good, decent human beings. Yet, along the way into adulthood and throughout adulthood itself, society teaches us to keep our feelings to ourselves. And this is especially true if those feelings are in any way even remotely negative. Suddenly, the teachings of the past slowly fade, and we retreat further into ourselves. No one says what they really mean: “Today is a bad day. I feel low, and I don’t know why. I feel alone. I want more from life, and I struggle to see a way to achieve it.”
Sometimes I feel too much, and it gets to me. It’s taken me years to be able to say that sometimes life gets me down, and, I admit, at times I have wondered whether or not it would be better to not wake up. It still hurts when people don’t understand. There is such an overwhelming fear of rejection, of being judged, and of being misunderstood. When you already feel isolated, the last thing you want is for others to look at you like you are lost or broken. Take comfort though; many react the way they do because they have fears too. And, despite coming across as cold and uncaring, they don’t usually mean to seem that way. They just don’t know what to say or what to do.
I don’t know if I could have said or done something to save the man who died that day, but I know what I can do now. I can carry his memory with me, and I can use that as a reminder to do more. I can listen to those who speak out about their loneliness and their struggles. I can offer a compassionate response. I can point them to help if they need it. I can treat them like they belong in this world.
Each and every one of us who walks this earth has battles to face. Be a friendly face. Say hello. You don’t know the difference those two small things can make in someone’s life.
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Thank you for writing this.
You echo everything about society that I have been struggling to understand for years.
‘When did we become so cold’…in a world where everything is at your fingertips and social media seems to control the way we live our lives we seem to be losing our human ability to care.
Maybe it’s just me, maybe we do and we just don’t know how to show it or do anything about it anymore.
As somebody who struggles with anxiety and depression it saddens me that I’m sometimes made to feel like we are the strange ones, we are the outcasts. But I still find the strength every day to look up when everyone else is looking down into their phones or tablets and give someone, a stranger, a smile.
I find peace in hoping that I may have made their day just a little bit better. And in doing so it makes mine a bit better too.
Your words here are powerful and I hope that we can encourage more to be friendly faces in this world.
My mother taught me the lesson of how much a smile can help someone. Somewhere along the way I learned that smiles can be contagious. I try to always smile at others as I’m walking. To say good morning or hello. I’m not sure what difference it makes, but I’m sure it makes one. I’m not a friendly or happy person. I just try to do at least this little thing to try to help others. Your post reminded me that it’s a good thing I’m doing. I had started to wonder lately and do it a bit less. So thank you so much for your message.
I just read a definition of my diagnosis and if he is like me he may have been naturally inclined to lead a lonely life. This does not make lonely isolation good for us. A wave or a smile helps me immensely on many days. I tend to creep into my head without stimulus or loving care (falling asleep can be quite odd for me). I want to immerse myself in the loving care of my closest friends in days and weeks to come while I continue treatment. I am 12 years clean and serene living with schizoaffective… My name is Matt.
Thank you for writing this. I feel the same way and understand you. Once my father made the decision to take his own life he impacted many many people. This world is to cruel to those who are warm. We need to take the burden off of others. I see it as my obligation to help people and stop as many suicides as I can in my life . People need reassurance that life is worth living no matter how much pain or hurt you are struggling with. It’s okay to reach for help. I also understand where you might be a little angry for someone taking their life. I lost my dad very young. I didn’t understand until just a few years ago. I’ve always struggled with the anger I had for him. But now I think I might understand. I’m trying to learn to forgive him. As well as make it my duty to do whatever I can so no one else has to feel what I’ve felt. Again thank you for writing this. It made my day a little brighter when I needed it most. Thank you and I’m glad there are people like you out there in this world.